Ezra

Ezra 10

Scripture
The entire chapter

Observation
Repentance requires action, it is more than just feeling sorry for what we have done.

Understanding
The last couple of chapters give us a good understanding regarding what repentance looks like.  When confronted with the fact that the people have been disobedient to God's commands Ezra's response is not, "Oh well people will be people," rather it is the reaction of a person who understands what the severity of the action is.  We have sinned against God and intimacy with Him is threatened.  Now instead of hiding it and covering it up Ezra wails and mourns in front of the people and publicly confesses their sin.  Then having acknowledged their disobedience they come up with a plan of action, based on the Law of God they were given, to deal with the problem.  The solution requires that they make the decision between continuing in their sin or turning away from the offending action in response to God's command.

Life Application
Repentance goes beyond feeling sorry for our actions it requires that we recognize our sin, confess it to God and to one another and then to turn away from the God-ofending actions.  Too often we say we are repentant but we do none of the above, we are simply sorry for what we did - that is remorse not repentance.  God calls us to repentance not just remorse.  How often we get tripped up on one of the steps towards repentance and never get to the end.  We don't want to confess to our sin, or we are sorry for what we are doing but we don't want to part with it.  We make excuses that it will cause more hurt if we try to go by God's standard so we continue on in our disobedience.  The list goes on.

Father help me to go beyond remorse to repentance in the things that you have declared are sin.  When I sin, I will come back to you even if the cost if great because in the end I want my actions to show that you are number one, there is no one else above you.


Ezra 9

Scripture

"The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices

Observation
It is very difficult to be in the world yet not of the world.

Understanding
We are very much like the Israelites, we battle day in and day out with the temptation to integrate into the culture around us.  For the Israelites God commanded then not to by telling them not to intermarry with the people in the surrounding cultures but as Ezra 9 shows us they were disobedient, starting from the leaders down.  It is difficult not to be sucked in to the culture around us.  Think about the men in Israel...for them the act of integration into the culture was intermarrying.  No big deal right except when they come across a very beautiful woman from one of the surrounding nations.  Now all he can think about is that beautiful woman and making her his wife.  He battles with being obedient to God's command but surely God didn't mean it in this context of "true love."  He focuses on the beautiful woman to the point of rationalizing away that this is ok.  He marries her and all seems well for a while till the kids come along.  Now the wife has established herself and has the run of the house and she wants to teach the kids about the worship of the gods she grew up with...you see where this goes.

Life Application
So often we give in to the struggle of keeping ourselves in the world yet not of the world.  We rationalize why in this circumstance it will be okay and what ends up happening is that we water down our walk with God and not only do we suffer but the generations that come after us suffer.  Their walks become watered down and watered down till what we are faced with is "God's people" who live in slavery.  Yet the question is..."Is there a remnant who will say enough is enough?"  We need to be like Ezra and see our compromise for what it is, sin, disobedience to God, and we need to respond in the same way...with repentance.


Ezra 8

Scripture
21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, "The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him." 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer....
31 On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.

Observation
Ezra models what all of us as God-followers need to be doing, his actions reflected his beliefs about God. 

Understanding
To make a journey from Persia to Jerusalem with lots of possessions and no soldiers for protection was asking for trouble.  Yet Ezra does not want to ask for it because he realizes that his actions would not line up with what he had proclaimed, that God is looking after them and would protect them.  So he puts his money where his mouth is and decides to act on his belief of God.  God will protect so I don't need to ask for other protection.  This putting his faith into action becomes a powerful communication to the king and any other onlooker but it also increases the faith of the Jews who under Ezra's leadership must walk out what they believe.  Imagine what it must have done for their faith when they arrived in Jerusalem safe and secure.  Now they are even more ready for what God wants to do next - a revival that will take place - because their faith has been built.

Life Application
How many times we say we believe God is our provider and then we go and try and get someone else to meet out needs.  Our first reaction is to get a loan rather than fast and pray and walk in faith.
How many times we say that God is our Lord and then we act in a way that shows otherwise? 
How many of us declare God is our protector and we live in complete fear not wanting to do anything because we are fearful of something bad happening?
How many of us are missing out on the great move of God in our lives because we have not taken the steps to fast and pray, walk in faith and see God move powerfully in our lives?

Time to be like Ezra...put our actions where our belief is...fast and pray first rather than depend on men...walk in faith rather than in fear.

Get on that camel it is time to take a walk on the faith side, God can and will take care of us.


Ezra 7

Scripture

28My God was on my side and I was ready to go...

Observation
What better combination is there?  

Understanding
There is nothing better to give you confidence than knowing that God is with you.  The entire chapter has been a prelude to this line...Ezra sets up all the things that point to the fact that God was with him and so without any further ado he gets going.  There is a song that says, "Jesus and me we are a majority and no matter how big the mountain it will have to leave.  So why should I be troubled and have anxiety, And let life's little problems bother me?  Because He lives I have the strength and because He is that assures my victory." 

  Whenever I Speak His Name  (You can listen to the song, it's old but hey I like it.  The line I am talking about is in the second verse)

That is what Ezra is saying.  I am ready to face the unknown and do something that changes the world because God is on my side, and if God is on my side then I know I am on the winning side.

Life Application
Lord help us to remember that you have called us, you have given us everything we need to do what you have called us to do and Your Word says that you will never leave us or forsake us.  With that in mind let us respond like Ezra, bring it on I am ready to go.


Ezra 5

Scripture

4:23 The letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates. They lost no time. They went to the Jews in Jerusalem and made them quit work. 24 That put a stop to the work on The Temple of God in Jerusalem. Nothing more was done until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia

5:1-2Meanwhile the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo were preaching to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the authority of the God of Israel who ruled them. And so Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak started again, rebuilding The Temple of God in Jerusalem. The prophets of God were right there helping them.

Observation
In spite of the opposition the people of God did not give up on His calling on their lives even though obeying Him would and could bring persecution.

Understanding
About fifteen years have passed since the people have returned to rebuild.  Fifteen years and they don't have a temple to show for it.  The original king had died and there were a few kings who did not want the temple rebuilt or who had no understanding of the initial decree.  In times like these the people of God needed to be reminded who gave they serve - they were there because God intended the temple to be rebuilt.  So even though the kings has issued a cease-order God sends His prophets Haggai and Zechariah to remind them of who was their rightful ruler.  

Life Application
Many times we are God-followers need to be reminded of whose we are and who is our ruler.  We need to remember that God is the one who has called us and assigned us a job that He desires to accomplish through partnership with Him.  When we face opposition, and it will come, we need to not give up but to press on to complete to the best of our ability His calling on our life.  Many of the original people who returned to rebuild did not see the temple rebuilt but they did their part, there were players in the greater story of God and because of their obedience God's will was accomplished.  
Don't think that your part is not important and give up, God is depending on you doing your part. 
Don't think that because there is opposition to what God called you to then it is no longer His will.  
Don't ever forget that as people of God we are ultimately accountable to Him.
Everyone who returned,from elders, temple workers, musicians, builders and prophets, each had a role to play in the accomplishing of God's will and each were required to do their part.  We are the same, you have been placed in DSC and God calls you to do your part in multiplying Christ-followers who become the leaders and workers in a Great Commission Movement.  Will you?


Ezra 4

Scripture

4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. 5 They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.

 24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Observation
Too often we hear the phrase "If it is not God's will then He will close the doors."  This story tells us differently.

Understanding
As the story unfolds we see that it was God's will that the temple be rebuilt, so He divinely orchestrates for a non-God-fearing king to send God's people back to rebuild the temple.  It was God's will for the people to return and rebuild yet there were obstacles in their way.  If they had believed that saying that if they were experiencing obstacles then it was probably not God's will then they would have stopped rebuilding when the persecution came and the order to stop was given.  But we will discover that they did not allow the obstacles and persecutions to stop them from the call of God on their lives.  It may have slowed them down but it did not stop them.

The other thing that should be mentioned is that just because we are being obedient to God does not mean that everything is going to go smoothly.  We are part of a greater drama unfolding, a spiritual battle, and the enemy will do his best to stop the plans of God.  We need to expect opposition, it is par for the course.

Life Application
Lord, help me not to get discouraged and give up on your call for my life just because I hit some obstacles or roadblocks.  I choose to continue faithfully in the direction you have sent me and I am not going to let circumstances alone determine whether I am walking in your will or not.

Are you letting circumstances be the determinant of God's will in your life?  How do you determine what is God's will for you? 


Ezra 3

Scripture
3 Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices.

Observation
Living out our obedience in front of a watching and sometimes antagonistic world is not the easiest thing.

Understanding
No one is exempt from the fear that grabs us when we have to stand out and do something different - especially something that the rest of the onlookers are not favorable to.  Being obedient to God today, like in the days of this story, was not popular and so it stirred up fear in the hearts of the Israelites.  But I love what happens because it is a challenge to me to do the same, "despite their fear, they obeyed."  It didn't say they tried to psychoanalyze their fear, it didn't say they got rid of their fear first and then they obeyed.  It says that "despite their fear."  What a great encouragement to all of us.  

Life Application
I admit there are lots of times I am fearful to be obedient to God because of the consequences of ridicule, punishment, or it what it will cost me financially, etc. but I am challenged to walk like the Israelites (at least in this instance) and do what God commands me to do.  Remember this is not something unique to us, it has happened throughout the ages as God-followers have desired to be obedient.  Paul writes about it in Romans 12:1-2 when he says "don't let the world around you squeeze you into into it's mold..." 

What about you?  Where are you compromising on God's commands because of your fear of the people around you?  Where are you being squeezed into the world's mold?  How have you overcome it?  Share with us so that we can be encouraged and strengthened.


Ezra 1 & 2

Scripture
 1:5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.
 
2:68When the people came to where the LORD's temple had been in Jerusalem, some of the family leaders gave gifts so it could be rebuilt in the same place. 69They gave all they could

Observation
When it is God's will regarding a matter He always provides a way to accomplish it and it is usually through partnering with us.

Understanding
In the case of rebuilding the temple God provided through a number of ways.  In the first place God placed Daniel as an adviser to King Cyrus.  Daniel was probably the one who showed Cyrus the prophecies regarding Cyrus and as a result God's Word was fulfilled.  He made a way to accomplish it.  Some may say coincidence...yeah right!  Then Cyrus issues a decree and provides all the stuff that was originally taken from the temple - see how God had kept it safe for so many years - and then God moves on the heart of the people He had selected to return and rebuild.  Those people were given gold and silver from people who were not returning.  Now it would have been easy for the people who were returning to get back to Jerusalem and loaded with all that gold and silver just start a new life for themselves and forget why they had returned, but thankfully they didn't.  Neither did they keep the gold and silver for themselves but gave so that the temple could be rebuilt - after all that was why they were there.  And they didn't hold back either, they gave all they could.

Life Application
I am amazed at how often we forget why we are here.  How many times we all fall into the trap of believing that the gold and silver we have in our possession is for us to make a life for ourselves when the fact is we have been given this treasure to build the kingdom of heaven.  We are guilty of keeping God's treasure for ourselves and lost sight of our purpose here on this planet.

What is our purpose?  Well it is to take the time, talent, treasure and testimony we have been given and use it to go and make Christ-followers everywhere. 
Have you been acting with integrity regarding the time, talent, treasure and testimony you have been given?  Share with us the stories of what you have been doing with those things to build God's kingdom.


Introduction to Ezra

Eugene Petersen

History had not treated the People of Israel well and they were in decline. A superpower military machine, Babylon, had battered them and then, leaving their city and temple a mound of rubble, hauled them off into exile. Now, 128 years later, a few Jews back in Jerusalem had been trying to put the pieces back together decade after weary decade. But it was not going well at all. They were hanging on by their fingernails. And then Ezra arrived.

This is an extreme case of a familiar story, repeated with variations in most centuries and in most places in the world.

Men and women who find their basic identity in God, as God reveals himself in Israel and Messiah, don’t find an easy time of it. They never have. They never will. Their identity is under constant challenge and threat—sometimes by hostile assault, at other times by subtle and smiling seductions. Whether by assault or seduction, the People of God have come perilously close to obliteration several times. We are never out of danger.

Because of Ezra, Israel made it through. God didn’t leave Ezra to do this single-handedly; he gave him substantial and critical help in the rescue operation in the person of Nehemiah, whose work providentially converged with his. (Important details of the Ezra story are in the memoirs of Nehemiah, the book that follows this one.) The People-of-God identity was recovered and preserved. Ezra used Worship and Text to do it. Ezra engaged them in the worship of God, the most all-absorbing, comprehensive act in which men and women can engage. This is how our God-formed identities become most deeply embedded in us. And Ezra led them into an obedient listening to the text of Scripture. Listening and following God’s revelation are the primary ways in which we keep attentively obedient to the living presence of God among us.

Ezra made his mark: Worship and Text continue to be foundational for recovering and maintaining identity as the People of God.

How many of you have ever read the book of Ezra before?  This is going to be a fun one.